Q&A with Ellen K, a Purdue alum entering the Radio Hall of Fame

Since 2015, West Lafayette High School and Purdue University alum Ellen K has hosted the morning show at iHeart Radio’s KOST-FM, which bills itself as Los Angeles’ “feel good” station. Before that, Ellen K, whose name was Ellen Thoe while she was growing up in Indiana, worked as the on-air sidekick for two household names in media—Rick Dees and Ryan Seacrest—across nearly 25 years.

That adds up to a Radio Hall of Fame career for Ellen K. On Nov. 1, she will become one of nine Hall of Fame inductees in the class of 2022. The group includes her former boss, Emmis Corp. founder Jeff Smulyan.

Ellen K, KOST-FM on-air host

Did you work at any Indianapolis radio stations before moving to California?

I did. After graduating from Purdue, I got a job in Columbus, Indiana, at an AM station and then at WENS, the Emmis-owned station in Indianapolis—doing overnights there. That was incredible.

My oldest brother, Gary, knew someone who was a cousin of the general manager, Jeff Smulyan. I sent all of my cassette tapes and a letter. I did the full-court press. I was not going to take “no” for an answer, because they had an opening and I wanted to do this. So I ended up working at an AM station during the day and then I did overnights at WENS.

Jeff Smulyan was your boss, and now you’re entering the Radio Hall of Fame with him.

How crazy is that? It’s really a full-circle moment. It’s going to be so emotional.

I perceive your LA story to be in three phases: You worked with Rick Dees, then you worked with Ryan Seacrest, and now you have your own show. Is that basically the timeline?

Yes, and all within the same company. When I left Ryan’s show, I literally walked down the hallway five studios to my studio.

Did that feel like a leap, or was it natural and not difficult at all?

It was such a leap. Do you know those guys who wear squirrel wingsuits and jump off cliffs? That was me.

Even though I’d done radio in the mornings for 25 years here in Los Angeles, I was so unprepared for what I was entering. Had I known then what I know today, I might have had too much fear. It is so competitive.

I jumped at the chance, of course, and it was a great opportunity. I was encouraged by the company and by Ryan. I had a lot of support. But it was myself and my producer, Darlene Rodrigo, who’s still with me today. … We would stay here all day in the beginning just trying to figure it out. And we did. It’s been such a wonderful and unexpected turn.

You mentioned competition. Is that competition for guests? Is it station against station?

It’s citywide ratings and revenue, and everything in between. Marketing, money, guests. … There are a lot of moving parts, and we had to nail all those down. It was a startup, even though I had a lot of experience. Startups are never easy. There’s a lot of sweat and tears that go into it. But it’s so worth it.•

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